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The 16 Best Vegetarian Options At Carnivorous Restaurants

By Lisa White in Best Of on May 6, 2015 8:15PM

No matter what your dietary needs and habits are, Chicago has a wide variety of restaurants to choose from. From meat-centric steakhouse, to raw vegan focused cuisine and everything in between, we're not a city that is short on options when it comes to dining.

But finding spots that truly satisfy the needs of those who eat meat and those who do not can be a tricky thing. No one wants their dining companion feeling left out, stuck with a sad salad or dry pasta with wilted veggies. Today we share our favorite spots that offer up delicious vegetarian options in a surprising setting— restaurants where the focus is more on animal proteins. From a metal music burger bar to seasonal options offered up at an emporium of pork, these places and dishes let all diners and diets enjoy a meal in harmony.

(Photo courtesy of County BBQ)

Corn Pudding at County BBQ
It may seem kind of daft to order anything but BBQ at a BBQ restaurant, but actually this corn pudding is my favorite thing on the menu. For those not familiar with this regional Southern delicacy, it’s basically like if you crossed cornbread with fresh corn on the cob and a creamy souffle. Whether you order BBQ or are opting for a vegetarian meal made up of this and their other vegetarian sides, don’t miss this dish.— Melissa McEwen

County BBQ is located at 1352 W. Taylor St.

Korean Burger at Little Goat Diner
The word “goat” is in the restaurant name and inevitably appears several places on the menu, but even in Stephanie Izard’s more casual restaurant there are ways to go vegetarian. My favorite way- a way I admittedly dream about from time to time-- is to get the Korean-style burger without the bacon. You can choose from a variety of meats and “meats” for any of the burger options at Little Goat, so I always opt for the wonderfully moist and flavorful brown-rice based veggie burger. Getting it Korean style means adding a poached egg, kimchi, spicy mayo and a soft bun. Truly an experience. — Carrie Laski

Little Goat Diner is located at 820 W. Randolph St.

Black Bean Burger at Parts and Labor
Even though Parts and Labor is known for the meaty paradise of their superb diner burger, vegans and vegetarians can also be in paradise while chowing down on the Logan Square restaurant's black bean burger. Cheese can be added if desired or it can be left off if your or your buddy's vibe is vegan. At so many restaurants, veggie burgers seem to be an afterthought, especially at a place with a primarily carnivorous focus, but this is not the case at Parts and Labor. The black bean patty is seasoned perfectly with just the right amount of heat. It is crisp and has that grilled taste so many soggy, under-seasoned veggie burgers at so many other places totally lack. Even sitting among a table full of carnivores, you can take comfort in knowing eating this vegan / vegetarian option is absolutely not an afterthought and you will enjoy every meatless bite. — Carrie McGath

Parts and Labor is located at 2700 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Any Vegetarian Option at Nana
Nana prides themselves on serving local, organic and sustainable food but they also could add fresh, simple and diverse to the list as well. A longtime Chicagoist favorite, Nana offers up a menu that for the most part sticks to what is in season, keeping dishes super fresh and full of flavor. A lot of their food isn’t overly complicated, instead using the best ingredients so you can enjoy the beauty in something simple yet high quality. And although you can enjoy some delicious fried chicken and many other meat options, the menu has a strong showing of vegetarian dishes or plates the staff is happy to make substitutions for to satisfy your vegetarian needs. Regardless of your diet choices, start with their delicious avocado fries, a favorite on the menu. — Lisa White

Nana is located at 3267 S. Halsted St.

Vegan And Vegetarian Pizza at Dimo’s
While Dimo’s is known for their weird and decadent pizza toppings, they also offer some of them vegan, as well as a number of vegetarian offerings freckled with vegetables of all kinds. Yes, they offer a vegan version of their famous mac and cheese, as well as a version of their philly cheesesteak pizza, as well as seasonal offerings like Not Your Mom’s Grilled Cheese topped with spicy smoky tomato sauce, vegan mozzarella and cheddar, green onion and vegan grilled cheese croutons. — Melissa McEwen

Dimo’s Pizza is located at 3463 N Clark St. and 1615 N Damen Ave.

Veggie Burger and Mac & Cheese at Lockdown
Lockdown may be known as a place to go for big burgers, but the vegan patty is as good as any of it’s meat counterparts on the menu. Load that thing up with the “Posession of Shrooms” (portobellos, sauteed button mushrooms and goat cheese) and opt for the salad as your side and you’ve got a meal even the carnivores at your table will want a bite of. The build your own Mac & Cheese can also easily be made meat-free with a choice of 34 toppings like mushrooms, green onion, tomato or even caramelized banana or pineapple. It’s also available as a side. — Michelle Meywes

Lockdown is located at 1024 N. Western.

Vegan Korean Wings at Bon Bon Sandwiches
I had my doubts when a friend brought a few orders of these meatless chicken wings to a party a few weeks ago, but I think the word is mindblown for what I felt after devouring a whole flock of them. Bon Bon’s wings are done Korean style with a sweet and sour and tangy sauce that is super flavorful and has just the right amount of zing. And whatever they did with the tofu to prepare it should be patented—naysayers would never be able to tell the difference between it and real chicken. The best part though has to be the candied drum stick made out of sugar cane that is totally edible, leaving no spare parts left behind.—Selena Fragassi

Bon Bon Sandwiches is located at 2333 W. North Ave.

Toasted Oats at Trenchermen
These oats prove that oats aren’t just for breakfast and they aren’t just good with sweet toppings. At Trenchermen they toast the oats and then cook them like risotto, layering in mushroom stock and topping it with contrasting textures like almonds, fried tofu and sprouted lentils. It’s one of my favorite dishes on the entire menu even though I’m not a vegetarian.— Melissa McEwen

Trenchermen is located at 2039 W North Ave.

Raw Vegetable Salad at Au Cheval
Thing get heavy fast at Au Cheval. After the inevitable hour-plus (and that’s generous!) wait, patient diners have surely indulged in at a couple of drinks across the street. Ravenous because you purposely skipped lunch, guests continue with more beer before moving on to a fried bologna sandwich or unscrupulous burger, and more carbs in the form of fries. Feeling guilty? Start with this beauty of a salad: instead of lettuce, the cooks mandolin the heck out of crisp pink lady-like apples, perhaps some daikon and red radish, carrots, and other in-season produce. Tossed with a dash of lemon and hunks of creamy bleu cheese, this loosely-termed salad will inspire you to improve your knife skills - or mandolin safety - at home. — Kristine Sherred

Au Cheval is located at 800 W Randolph St.

The Vegetarian House Menu at El Faro
If you’re tired of eating beans and rice and grilled vegetables at your neighborhood Mexican spot, head down to El Faro and enjoy one of the most expansive vegetarian menus you’ll find at a taqueria. Meat lovers can still enjoy tender carne asada or pollo smothered in mole sauce, but the vegetarian house menu goes above and beyond most local spots. Besides the usual grilled veggies and diced cactus, El Faro also offers meat substitutes so you can enjoy tortas with soy meat options. And their daily specials are usually a hearty variety of a meat substitute simmered in a rich sauce with veggies, rice and black beans. — Lisa White

El Faro is located at 3936 W. 31st St.

The ‘TINEKA’ Sandwich at Lula Cafe
Lula Cafe's cafe menu is my key to getting away with an affordable dinner at this Logan Square farm-to-table mainstay. And thanks to the Tineka, an Indonesian-spiced peanut butter sandwich with tomatoes, cucumbers, sprouts, red onion and sourdough bread, I too can order something filling while my meat-eating friends are choosing between grilled lamb belly and steamed swordfish. Other great vegetarian options include their Greek pasta, flavored with cinnamon and feta cheese, and the nettle crepe, which has black walnut, creama kasa cheese and an assortment of vegetables. There's also a six-course tasting menu for vegetarians willing to splurge. Lula Cafe —Rachel Cromidas

Lula Cafe is located at 2537 N. Kedzie Blvd.

Bi Bim Bop at Bite Cafe
The unassuming, laid back vibe and delicious food have made me a regular at Bite Cafe in Humboldt Park. While I often come for their meaty entrees like their Tuesday steak special or Wednesday Chicken and Waffles, I’ve found myself drooling over their vegetarian dishes. They always have several to choose from, but my favorite is by far the Bi Bim Bop on their daily lunch menu. It hits all my favorite notes: there’s wild rice, mushrooms, zucchini, shaved brussels, pepitas, fried tofu, a sunny-side egg, green curry vinaigrette and a sesame chili sauce. Even though it’s so healthy that it probably has all the nutrients you need for the whole day, each bite holds an explosive flavorgasm. It’s one of my favorite lunches in the city and I’ll never tire of it. — Erika Kubick

Bite Cafe is located at 1039 N Western Ave.

(Photo: Melissa McEwen)

Anything Vegetarian at Table, Donkey and Stick
Table, Donkey and Stick has quietly built a menu that is very friendly towards dietary restrictions, featuring a large number of gluten-free and vegetarian dishes. No matter what you eat, it’s worth trying whatever vegetarian dish they feature, which varies every night. Recently we had some excellent celeriac fritters that were fried golden brown and had a creamy vegetal center. They were served with a surprising and innovative grapefruit and briny seabean salad. We also had some roasted sweet potatoes with caramelized kale, smooth braised cannellini beans and topped with fresh and house-pickled vegetables. — Melissa McEwen

Table, Donkey and Stick is located at 2728 W Armitage Ave.

’Shroom Burger at Shake Shack
When this uber popular chain finally touched down in Chicago a few months ago, I was already sick of hearing about their burgers before I even got there. So naturally, being the person I am, I had to go against the buck and opt for the ‘Shroom Burger—and I don’t think I’ve made a better decision in my life. The thick portabella is not only fried but it’s also stuffed with two kinds of cheese—muenster and cheddar. And it’s topped with the super special ShackSauce that really could not make vegetables taste any more gluttonous. No shame here though.—Selena Fragassi

Shake Shack is located at 66 E. Ohio St.

Prassópita at Taxim
It’s hard to pick just one favorite vegetarian dish at Taxim, which is great because it means their menu has a great deal of options for both vegetable lovers and vegetarians. But I’ll pick one and that’s the Prassópita, which is a lot like the more-famous Spanakopita, except instead of spinach it’s filled with leeks, dill and goat milk feta. All layered in crispy flaky puff pastry. Accent with their fire-roasted eggplant, pureed chickpeas with warm pita bread and squash fritters and you have an excellent vegetarian meal.— Melissa McEwen

Taxim is located at 1558 N Milwaukee Ave.

Any Vegetable Dish at The Publican
It’s pretty clear that The Publican loves pork. If the decor or the logo with pigs on it didn’t give it away, the numerous options on the menu should clue you in quickly to this fact. They’ve also got excellent seafood and other wonderful meat options. But if you’re ordering only carnivorous fare you are truly missing out on some of the best vegetable dishes in the city. I was clued in long ago to their delicious, seasonal and hearty vegetable menu and since then have enjoyed tender sunchokes in a bright acidic sauce, the sweetest and most flavorful corn I’ve ever had and some of the most meaty mushrooms full of deep earthy flavors. Obviously my favorites are long gone from the menu since the season has changed, but their current menu has some delectable sounding options, including barbecue carrots with creamy herb dressing, dill and pecans; fried cauliflower with romesco aioli, currant, shallot and scallion; and wild mushroom with roman gnocchi, pickled ramp and ubriaco prosecco. The wonderful staff can also help you find the perfect beer to pair with your dishes so you can enjoy a feast of seasonal favorites with a few pints. — Lisa White

The Publican is located at 837 W. Fulton Market.